How I Stopped Hiding Behind Makeup & Found The Real Me

For some, a lipstick is just a lipstick. But for others, it's a source of strength, creativity, and expression. In our series Power Faces, we'll explore the relationship between strong women and the makeup they choose to wear — or not. Our latest subject is Kiana Ledé, a 22-year-old singer, songwriter, actress, and pianist. After receiving critical acclaim for her two EPs, Selfless and Myself, Ledé is set to drop her debut album, KiKi, on 3rd of April. This story was told to Lexy Lebsack and edited for length and clarity.
My mom knew I was going to be a singer the first time she heard me sing my A-B-Cs. She worked days as a teacher and nights at In-N-Out so she could pay for me to do my first pageant and I could gain confidence on stage. I won that pageant and we used the prize money to keep doing them. Then I went to art school, which is much more integrated and no one cares what you look like.
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PHOTOGRAPHED BY NOLWEN CIFUENTES.
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But art school is sheltered, so by 8th grade, I told my mom I wanted to do music for fun and go to public school for the experience. That's where I felt like a mixed girl for the first time. I didn’t understand what being biracial meant when I was a kid; I just knew that I didn't look like my stepfamily, because they were white. My dad is black, but I didn't live with him until I was 12. My mom is Hispanic, but she didn’t have a family because her dad was deported back to Mexico and she grew up in foster care.
Photographed by Nolwen Cifuentes.
Photographed by Nolwen Cifuentes.
I got bused into a middle-class neighbourhood where there was only one black kid at my school. The Mexican kids I rode the bus with were nice to me, but they didn’t want to hang out with me on the weekends because I didn’t speak Spanish. I spent most of my time outside of school playing the piano, singing, and doing musical theatre and pageants.
I got a record deal when I was 15 and moved to L.A. by myself at 16. To support myself, I worked at CVS, then a gymnastics centre, and a jazz club at the W while I was also hustling and doing demo sessions. Eventually, thank God, I booked my first show and I released my EP, Selfless, in 2018.
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PHOTOGRAPHED BY NOLWEN CIFUENTES.
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Lost In L.A.
I worked so hard to prove to people that I loved myself by wearing glittery eyes or wearing bras and twerking. I wanted to know who I was, but I was also constantly trying to prove that I was worthy of being in R&B. I was scared of people using my past in pageants against me or saying, 'Oh, she's just a teeny bopper.' I was taking in bits and pieces and not realising how far away I was getting from myself.
Photographed by Nolwen Cifuentes.
At the same time, I was having conversations with people that led me to believe that I was not black enough or Mexican enough — all my mixed-girl insecurities started coming out, and I began living in defence mode. I wanted to defend my sexuality, what I wore, my blackness, my Mexican-ness, My Native American-ness. It got to a point where it was exhausting. 

Then, about six months ago, one of the people on my team showed me a PowerPoint made by the marketing group at my record label. It was basically dissecting who I am, which is super scary and sounds very Black Mirror-ish. It was all the categories of people I'd been that year: There was the Diana Ross diva, the Cher Diva, the Earth child, the streetwear queen.

I did not sleep for an entire night after I saw that Powerpoint. I realised that I was trying to find something to grab onto because I'm a mixed girl and I have a hard time with that. Instead of looking at my differences and running with them, I was running away from them. I started to think, Which one of these fit me? Or is it none of them? And why am I so afraid of what makes me different? 
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Photographed by Nolwen Cifuentes.
I was already thinking about this before the PowerPoint because I had also been through a couple of really traumatic things last year. I have never said this in an interview, but I was raped early last year and I think that's also part of why I was trying to love myself. I was on a journey to find myself, and then it happened and I was like, No, fuck you! I'm going to be my sexual self! Fuck you, I'm gonna be happy! Fuck you, I'm gonna twerk!
I was trying to prove to people that I was still happy and that I was okay, because I don't like when people know that something's wrong with me and I don't like something being wrong with me. I always thought that I'd be someone who was super outspoken. I am all about the #timesup and #metoo movements. I went to the Women’s Marches. But then it happened to me.
I am still dealing with it and I know I'm not doing half the shit I need to be doing to feel better. It was a lot more manipulation than I thought it was going to be because he was my friend and I talked to him afterward. Sadly, I have had a lot of sexual assault in my life, so I kind of knew the steps… not to move on, because you never do… but to make myself feel better and more comfortable.
All of this is what prompted my new album. I realised that I needed to sit with myself and start from scratch. 
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PHOTOGRAPHED BY NOLWEN CIFUENTES.
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A Fresh Page 
I did a lot of reflecting at the end of last year. I never got the chance to think about who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do without other people’s opinions. I thought, Why do I care so much about what people think? Why do I feel like I constantly have to prove myself? I decided to stop running away and embrace everything that I am. This way, I won't have to be five different people in one year; I'll be one person because I'm just being me. 
Photographed by Nolwen Cifuentes.
I realised that I don't like putting on glittery makeup every day. I was so focused on looking like “Kiana Ledé” for this interview or that show or on social media, and then I realised how much anxiety that was giving me. I thought, Who am I trying to keep up with? Who do I have to be when I turn on the camera? I want to cut the bullshit and talk about who I am because my music is me.
That was really difficult at first. I spent a lot of time soul searching. I looked at old family photos. I thought about my childhood and how one day I would be riding dirt bikes and camping and fishing, and the next I would be doing pageants and musical theatre and playing the violin and going to art school. That made me into the person that I am today. I looked at my life and decided I wanted to show people who I've always been: A romantic tomboy. I can wear heels and ride a dirt bike… that duality is what makes me, me. 
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I took out all my eyelash extensions, I took out my hair extensions, I cut my hair even shorter. I was just like, I need to stop running and take pride in my shit. Some of my inspiration is from what my mom used to wear. When I was growing up, she always did a slick middle part and a chocolatey, burgundy lip; that's what my version of beauty is and I always do that now.
Photographed by Nolwen Cifuentes.
Now I like to have my short, naturally curly hair and a bold lip with bushy eyebrows and barely any makeup. I wear dresses and sneakers or socks with heels. When I go on stage, the most important thing for me is not feeling like I'm a character.
At the end of the day, I learned that I shouldn’t let other people's expectations be forced onto me. It feels good to finally embrace who I am. I am a black girl, I am a Mexican girl, I am Native girl. My experience is my experience. 
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
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